(PG-13) 4 Stars
In the third act of Terrence Malick's The New World, John Rolfe (Christian Bale) is instructing Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher) about English concepts of time: a month, a day, an hour. The "Natural," as these Native Americans are called by the Jamestown residents, stops Rolfe and asks, "What is an hour?"
Sixty minutes, he replies.
You can see where this is going: If she asks him what a minute is he'll say 60 seconds and on ad infinitum down the rabbit wormhole of Zeno's xenophobic paradox.
The questions of the brown skins can never be fully answered by the white skins.
It's a skin-schism.
Pocahontas asks Rolfe how there come to be so many colors on the Earth.
He smiles, stumped.
If you're worried about what an "hour" means or how many calls may have accrued on your cell phone by the time this 135 minute film is over, you might feel a bit of a schism yourself. I'd suggest putting time aside altogether and simply surrendering to the rhythms of Malick's editing, to the compositions of the individual shots, the conjugation of water images, James Horner's quiet score and the beautiful faces: from the first unearthly glimpse of John Smith (Colin Farrell) in the hold of the ship, to the last shattering look at John Rolfe's grief.
I give this film a healthy four stars in part because of how I felt afterwards. How I stood in the lobby with other moviegoers streaming by, like I was a rock in the river of humanity. How I later floated into the bathroom with its gleaming surfaces, the urinal that flushes automatically when you move away, the faucet that runs automatically when it senses your hands beneath it, the hand dryers that save trees and trash, and, for one luscious instant, didn't recognize myself in the mirror. The words formed in my mind: I never slow down enough to notice things.
That night I dreamt of a huge gathering, a market where people from cultures around the planet were selling wares both mundane and phantasmagorical. How long is The New World? At this point, days later, it's still going.